West Coast ports halt weekend work; labor dispute heats up
William M. Welch, USA TODAY 9:01 p.m. EST February 11, 2015
LOS ANGELES -- Employers at West Coast shipping ports said Wednesday they were suspending operations for several days, the latest move in a contentious labor dispute with the union representing dockworkers.
The Pacific Maritime Association said it will halt loading and unloading at the ports, including busy operations at Long Beach and Los Angeles, on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The management association said it was taking the action because it does not want to pay higher premium wages for weekend and holiday operations while it contends workers, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, are conducting a work slowdown.
The union represents 20,000 dockworkers. The labor dispute affects 29 West Coast ports, from Tacoma, Wash., to Long Beach, Calif., that handle an estimated $1 trillion in goods annually.
"Last week, PMA made a comprehensive contract offer designed to bring these talks to conclusion," said spokesman Wade Gates. "The ILWU responded with demands they knew we could not meet, and continued slowdowns that will soon bring West Coast ports to gridlock. What they're doing amounts to a strike with pay, and we will reduce the extent to which we pay premium rates for such a strike."
The union denied taking any strike action and blamed employers, who it said haven't made themselves available for negotiations since last Friday.
"This is an effort by the employers to put economic pressure on our members and to gain leverage in contract talks," said ILWU President Robert McEllrath. "The union is standing by ready to negotiate, as we have been for the past several days."
The ports management says its contract offer would raise union wages 14% over five years, along with benefits and work guarantees. It contends current average full-time wages are $147,000 per year. The union says longshore workers earn good benefits and hourly wages but are limited in the hours of work available. It says an experienced longshore worker earns $83,000 a year.
Union officials have denied causing a slowdown and blame employers for not having enough workers. In a statement, the union called the port employers association a "group of predominantly foreign-owned companies.''
At least 18 container ships are parked at sea waiting for berths for unloading at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, DailyBreeze.com of Long Beach reported.
Negotiations between the maritime association and union were to resume Wednesday in San Francisco but were canceled. The two sides last met Friday.
Contributing: Associated Press